Bumper year for visitors

23:00, Jan 19 2010
Fullers ferry
BUSY SUMMER: Fullers ferry at Matiatia Wharf

Auckland's tourism boss is reporting a strong upturn in visitor numbers to the island this year, with growth predicted to rise even higher in future.

Tourism Auckland bookings are already up on last year, with busy ferries and full accommodation making for a bumper holiday season.

Tourism Auckland chief Graeme Osborne says it has been a great summer for the island so far, with the trend towards last-minute bookings pushing numbers up even higher.

He believes the recession has made people more wary about booking holidays abroad and people are looking closer to home for their break, with a big rise also in Australian visitors.

He says the island's growing status as an environmentally attractive place to visit is complementing its reputation as the place to go for fine wine, good restaurants, clean beaches, and the arts.

And he believes Waiheke offers a great events calendar, evenly spaced to offer something for everyone throughout the summer months.

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Mr Osborne pays particular tribute to the island's Transition Towns' movement and says features such as community gardens and an attractive environment give Waiheke a real point of difference.

He is predicting high future growth for tourism on the island and thinks Waiheke's inclusion in John Key's national cycleway could be particularly attractive to visitors wanting a real alternative to places dominated by cars.

The proposed application for Waiheke to become a UNESCO biosphere reserve also gets the tick of approval.

"That's really exciting," he says.

He points to celebrations around the 10th anniversary of the Hauraki Marine Park as yet another attraction that will benefit the island this year.

"There's a whole gathering of momentum around the marine park. Waiheke will be part of that."

Mr Osborne thinks last year's economic downturn seriously impacted on tourism and says there was definitely a degree of shrinkage in the market.

But he says the tourism sector historically recovers quickly and the future is looking bright.

"We've been pleased to support a positive summer for Waiheke," he says.

Fullers Ferries backs up Mr Osborne's observations.

A spokeswoman for the company says it has been a busy summer so far with more visitors coming to the island and staying later.

She says the busiest day was on January 2, with more than 8,000 people moved to and from Waiheke - more than any day's total last year or the year before.

And Fullers even had to provide back up boats to the island on six occasions between Sunday, 20 December 2009 and Saturday, 2 January this year because it was so busy.

"On the whole it has been a more smooth operation this year, much fewer disruptions - the vessels have had fewer problems and the management of passengers has gone a lot smoother.

"This has been really good for our staff, who have enjoyed working this year more than in other years.

"The number of complaints has fallen away and commendations are up, which is gratifying. But that doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels, it just that it's a little more comfortable for us."

Fullers says the Wharf to Wharf event was a spectacular success, with 477 passengers going to Orapui early on the Saturday, but the Topp Twins event was not as busy as expected as it attracted locals rather than townies.

The company is now getting ready for future passenger numbers as events continue on Waiheke during the rest of summer.

Meanwhile, SeaLink's Donna Gauci says its services have been extremely busy too, with numbers for December and January well up on last year.

She says December was also a very positive month for Great Barrier Island with passenger numbers the highest since 2003 and vehicle numbers the best on record for that month.

Waiheke shipping boss Brett Subritzky is also very happy.

He reports a hectic time with a significant increase in day trippers, many of them Indian and Asian families, and a rise in freight bookings prior to Christmas.

Waiheke Marketplace